Agriculture - Fisheries - Food
“The Lisbon Treaty,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy once told sceptical British parliamentarians “puts an end, for a long time, to the clashes of the past: it reforms the operation of the European Union”.
“From now on,” Sarkozy continued in his 2008 House of Commons speech “Europe can devote all its energy to concrete projects: the battle against climate change, energy, immigration, development, security and defence and the reform of the common policies.”
The treaty gives the EU influential new officials like a full time president of the regular gatherings of heads of state and government; a high representative who serves as the Union’s de facto foreign minister backed by an EU diplomatic service; it gives major new legislative powers to the European Parliament and an increased consultative role for national assemblies; lobby groups who can gather 1 million signatures from around the EU can submit legislative ideas to the Union’s policy makers; a simplified and more transparent voting procedure should streamline decision making when government ministers meet; the EU gets a charter of fundamental rights and a single legal entity.
However, in the six months since the Lisbon Treaty finally came into force on 1 December 2009, the EU has appeared to have become even more inward looking as the bloc’s institutions and 27 member nations struggle to implement the new charter.
The Union is locked into a period of intense navel gazing as it seeks to work out how the treaty will re-write the way it does business – from Europe’s relations to the rest of the world, to the relationship between citizens and the institutions, the balance of power among member states and the day-to-day running of the Union of 500 million people.
All roads lead from Rome
It was once said that if the EU were a computer, the treaties would be its operating system. Starting with the Treaty of Rome signed in 1957, successive treaties have provided the ground rules or the way the EU works, the blueprint for the decision making process.
Rome set up the European Economic Community and lasted until 1992 when the Maastricht Treaty created the European Union. The treaties then started coming thick and fast: Amsterdam in 1997, Nice in 2001, then the failed attempt at a Constitutional Treaty in 2004, and finally Lisbon in 2009.
The EU feels the need for these regular changes to reflect the increasing complexity of the Union. Back in 1957 the EEC consisted of just six nations and concerned itself with a limited number of economic questions. Successive enlargements have taken the membership to 27 countries who must now agree on a vast range of complex issues – environment, immigration, defence, foreign policy, management of a common currency, to name just a few.
The December 2000 summit in the French Riviera resort of Nice was the longest in EU history. For five acrimonious days Europe’s leaders haggled over a text that was designed to lead the bloc into a brave new millennium as it embraced new members freshly liberated from the Soviet yoke. In the end the Nice Treaty was a stop cap that left few satisfied. It was deemed to be over-complex, unwieldy and un-transparent, inadequate for the EU to manage its impending expansion into Eastern Europe.
To replace it, EU leaders came up with a grand scheme. At their summit in the Brussels suburb of Laeken in December 2001 with the world still reeling from the 9/11 attacks on the United States, the leaders of Europe agreed to finish with the series of temporary treaties by drawing up a constitution for Europe that would bind the Union still closer together and build a firm foundation on which the EU could develop as a player in an uncertain world.
Rather than the usual horse-trading among EU governments, this time, a Convention was set up to draft the new charter in full view of public debate. National governments of current and candidate EU nations, national parliaments, the European Parliament and the European Commission would all be represented.
The ambition was grand, clearly influenced by the Philadelphia Convention that produced the US Constitution in the 1787. However, it started out with an undignified start as leaders squabbled over who should chair the Convention, eventually deciding on former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing after a trade-off that involved the location of job-creating new EU agencies in certain smaller nations who had lobbied for former Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok to take the job. Even so the foreign minister of one small nation said Britain been decisive in picking Giscard because Prime Minister Tony Blair thought he would make the best scapegoat if things went wrong.
After 18 months, 26 plenary meetings, 1,800 speeches, 1,159, written reports and 1,264 contributions from non-governmental organizations, and a dissenting opinion from euro-sceptic convention members, Giscard handed a draft treaty to EU headers of state in the summer of 2003. In 60 articles, the constitutional treaty aimed to define the European Union’s values and objectives and the balance of power between its institutions and member states. After protracted wrangling among the member nations – notably on each nation’s voting weights on EU decisions – a text was finally signed by all EU leaders in Rome in October 2004.
The Constitutional Treaty gave the EU many of the trappings of a state, formalizing the circle of gold stars on a blue background as the EU flag, and Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” as the anthem. It gave the EU an increased role in areas such as immigration, foreign policy and defence and stipulated that most EU decisions would be taken by a majority of member states, not by unanimity. It would have created a permanent president of the European Council _ comprised of heads of state and government _ and an EU foreign minister. The European Commission would be slimmed down meaning nations would not all have a full time seat and the European Parliament would get increased powers as a “co-decision” maker alongside the council of ministers. The EU would have a new Charters of Fundamental Rights.
Proud of the transparency of the process several EU nations organized referendums to ratify the constitution, confidently expecting citizens to give it the charter the thumbs up. It was not to be. Although the Spanish and Luxembourgers voted in favour of the Constitution, in the summer of 2005 voters in France and the Netherlands dealt it a deadly blow. Whether the “no” votes were related to fears over an influx of Polish plumbers, dissatisfaction with national leaders or genuine concerns over the EU’s role in national affairs, the rejection by two previously euro-enthusiastic founder members of the Union killed the constitution and threw Europe into crisis.
Dublin vs. Lisbon
After a period of “reflection” and much collective hand wringing, EU leaders in June 2006 tasked the incoming German presidency to map out the route ahead. The new French President Nicolas Sarkozy set the tone with his call for a mini-treaty that would take on much of the content of the Constitution without a lot of the symbolism, and without the need for most nations to hold referendums. In June 2007 EU leaders signed up to the Berlin Declaration on the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, in which the they committed to putting the EU on a “renewed common basis” by mid 2009 when Portugal would hold the rotating presidency. After more months of sometimes acrimonious debate over voting rights and the role of EU human rights law, a text was agreed on a stripped down document signed by EU leaders in the Portuguese capital in October 2007. Relieved to have corralled all the leaders into an agreement, the Portuguese planned a moving ceremony, but confronted by noisy opposition demands for a referendum, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown arrived late and put his name to the treaty away from the cameras.
It was not the British however that were going to cause problems with ratification of the treaty, but their western neighbours. With a low threshold for calling referendums on any amendment of the European Treaties judged to modify the country’s constitution, Ireland was the only nation to put the Lisbon Treaty to a popular vote. Although Ireland’s biggest political parties backed the treaty, a pro-No coalition that included British-born business man Declan Ganley and the nationalist Sinn Féin party mounted an enthusiastic campaign that played on fears that ranged from increased immigration and higher taxes, to threats to Irish neutrality or Brussels-imposed legalised abortion. With the pro-Lisbon arguments abut more efficient voting procedures or the benefits of a permanent president of the European Council failing to inspire voters, the result was predictable. Ireland voted 53.4 per cent to 46.6 per cent against the treaty and the EU was thrown once again into crisis.
This time however, the rest of the EU was in no mood to go into a major rewrite of the rule book. With war breaking out in the Caucasus and global financial meltdown looming, the other 26 nations agreed to tinker with the treaty – ensuring that Ireland and all the others would keep their European Commissioners and giving some additional guarantees on abortion, taxation and neutrality. A second referendum was held in October 2009 with Ireland deeply concerned about the risk of political isolation in the midst of the economic turmoil. Over 67 per cent voted “yes.”
Other EU nations had ratified the treaty with parliamentary votes, but some doubts remained even after the Irish vote. The sceptical presidents of Poland and the Czech Republic sought to hold out even after legislators voted to ratify, there was a constitutional court challenge in Germany and a persistent doubt that the prospect of a Conservative government could lead to a retrospective referendum. In the end, however, everybody came on board and the treaty came into force on Dec. 1.
Almost immediately however, a spate of new difficulties arose over who should take the new top jobs of European Council president and High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy; how to form the EU’s diplomatic service _ the External Action Service how many members should sit in the European Parliament and how the new Citizens’ Initiative will allow a petition of 1 million signatures to shape EU policy.
- 1. Background
- 2. Principles and Institutions
- 3. Foreign Policy, Europe’s place in the world
- 4. Addressing the democratic deficit
- 5. Key policy makers and contacts